51,000 drop in Northumberland GP appointments during lockdown

Over 50,000 fewer GP appointments have been made in NorthumberlandOver 50,000 fewer GP appointments have been made in Northumberland
Over 50,000 fewer GP appointments have been made in Northumberland
Over 50,000 fewer GP appointments have been recorded in Northumberland – raising fears that the Covid-19 crisis is putting people off seeing a doctor.

NHS Digital data shows that patients booked in to see their doctor 110,936 times in the NHS Northumberland CCG area in April – down 51,155 on the same month last year – a 32% drop.

The decrease was similar to that across England as a whole, where 7.7 million fewer appointments were made in April than 12 months previously, a reduction of a third.

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The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has urged patients to seek help if they need it.

The NHS says changes in how practices are operating during the pandemic may have affected the figures – with remote sessions under-reported.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said people may be worried about overburdening NHS services during the crisis, or contracting the virus themselves.

He added: “If anyone is seriously ill or concerned about their health, we’d strongly urge them to contact their GP practice or call 111. In an emergency, call 999.

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“Unmanaged or untreated conditions may not go away and could get worse, with serious consequences.”

In Northumberland, 51% of sessions were logged as having been completed over the phone in April, significantly up from just 22% a year previously.

Prof Marshall added: “As we move into the next steps of the pandemic it's imperative that the NHS is given the attention and resources it has had at the height of Covid-19.

“General practice must be adequately resourced to deal with the predicted increase in demand as GPs care for patients who may have put off symptoms during the peak of the pandemic, outpatients managing Covid-19 at home, and those suffering from indirect side effects, such as associated mental health conditions."

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The NHS said the drop-off in recorded appointments does not necessarily mean GPs are seeing fewer patients.

It said practices are likely to be operating differently in response to the pandemic, including the use of more list appointments, in which contact with several patients is only counted once, while online and video sessions “may also not be routinely captured”.